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Nancy Smith

Gambling and Atlantic City: No Casinos Still Shoveling It

February 1, 2015 - 6:00pm

The anti-gambling lobby No Casinos is still out there, still shameless in its bogus cause-and-effect propaganda about what happened to Atlantic City.

Once a week these people distribute carefully selected links to casino-problem stories, many of them on the downfall of the New Jersey waterfront city granted a gaming monopoly in the Northeast four decades ago.

Worse, in "Losing Bets: A Weekly Roundup of Casino Follies and Failures -- the Week's Top Headlines," they would have you believe Atlantic City's misery will be repeated in Florida.

They even included a link to a story about a restaurant at the Borgata -- one of AC's remaining casino resorts:"Atlantic City casino being called 'seriously racist' after serving fried chicken and collard greens on Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday." I'll leave it to your imagination what they were suggesting might happen in Florida by including this one in their weekly roundup.

Another story talks about next-door neighbor Delaware -- "Delaware Casinos: Panel Recommends $46 Million Bailout." Itclaims the State of Delaware is bailing out the casino industry to the tune of $46 million. Not true. Check the facts: The state is paying $15.8 million in Year One -- but it's not a bailout, it's a reduction of more than $200 million in casino-win taxes paid annually to the state. (Incidentally, the Delaware race tracks in question, with hotels and casinos, also employ thousands of well-paid individuals, and pay sales taxes plus other taxes and fees. And the employees fork over state income taxes. Steve Norton, gaming consultant and authority on the industry, said, "This doesn't sound like a subsidy to me. It sounds like a government recognizing that casino gaming in Maryland is cutting into Delaware's casino customer visits -- and lowering an excessive tax rate to something more reasonable.")

This is nothing new from No Casinos (NC). These people have been flogging Atlantic City scare tactics for the last couple of years, and every now and then I rise to the bait and reply in this column. I've come to the conclusion, if they insist on using New Jersey stories to turn the Florida Legislature off destination resort casinos, then I'm going to keep on setting the record straight.

What happened in Atlantic City -- casinos going under one after the other, taking tens of thousands of jobs and the economy with them -- absolutely, positively cannot happen in Florida.

How can I say absolutely, positively not? Because the Legislature will only look at sanctioning one or two top-class destination resort casinos in hubs like Miami or Tampa -- cities that already have a diverse tourism base. And even if the Legislature does make that decision, residents in each locale will have to vote a resort casino in.

Consider this: The first casino opened in Atlantic City in 1978, but during the next two decades especially, casino hotels kept on coming. Nobody said "stop." Casino operators built the facilities required to meet a unique casino demand.

Nevertheless, even as new tribal casinos were introduced in Connecticut and slot parlors allowed in Delaware and West Virginia, Atlantic City "win" (or profits) continued to grow -- for 36 straight years. Then slot parlors were legalized in Pennsylvania, and within two years, they had added table games, following the lead of Delaware and West Virginia.

That was eight years ago. Since then, casino win has declined from $5.2 billion to $2.7 billion in Atlantic City. But overall, gaming revenues in the Northeast have continued their annual climb. Unfortunately, 95 percent of the prime markets Atlantic City tapped (markets within a two- to three-hour drive) now live closer to casinos or racinos in Pennsylvania, New York and Maryland.

So, buses that once brought 14 million customers directly to AC's 13 casinos, now bring fewer than 2 million -- approaching 90 percent decline. Now many of AC's previous New York buses are leaving Manhattan for the Sands Casino in Bethlehem, Pa.

I repeat, Florida legislative discussions on gaming since the Seminole compact was signed have revolved around adding a handful of destination casinos, not dozens. And if added to resort areas with substantial existing accommodations and an international airport nearby, casino resort hotels, with state-of-the-art convention facilities in the mix, could lure millions of additional visitors with substantial disposable income.

Make no mistake, all of the links No Casinos is providing are to legitimate, if sometimes flawed, stories. But they are selected to paint a picture of doom and gloom through their headlines. Too many people read headlines and not whole stories. Do that often enough here, and you will despair. With No Casinos you never get to see the dozens of other stories, particularly the business stories that reflect the success of an industry when hotel-casinos are done right.

Florida might better look at Singapore's experience in introducing two destination casino resorts. Sands built an extraordinary $5.5 billion project with 2,561 rooms, 1.3 million square feet of meeting/exhibit space, 800,000 square feet of retail, two theaters seating more than 1,600, and an art/science museum. Genting invested $6.6 billion in developing four hotels, a Universal Theme Park, a water park and a Maritime Experiential Museum and Aquarium.

Thus Singapore, a nation opposed to casino gaming, agreed to allow two as a boost to sagging visitor arrivals. What happened since? Foreign arrivals went from 9 million to 15 million in just 4 years, and the existing accommodations, with 35,000 rooms, increased their occupancy rates considerably. They have never looked back.

Florida needs strategically placed integrated casino resorts because more tourists today are looking to expand their entertainment options, especially during evenings, when sun, sand, water sports and golf aren't happening. Legislators can do it right. They can accomplish something that will provide jobs and revenue and they can accomplish it without harming tribal gaming or Florida pari-mutuels.

Florida is not New Jersey; none of its tourist centers is Atlantic City.

Reach Nancy Smith at or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith

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